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Interview with Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 31, 2017 - 08:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Powerful car bomb exploded near the German embassy in Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This bomb felt across the capital.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The hospitals are flooded, so we can certainly expect casualties to rise.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, May 31st, 8:00 in the east. And we do have breaking news for you, this out of Afghanistan. There was this massive suicide bomb and it has rocked Kabul's diplomatic border, killing at least 80 people, injured hundreds more. The blast happened about 400 yards from the German embassy. It did injure several diplomats. Officials say this bomb was hidden in a water delivery truck during morning rush hour. So far no claim of responsibility.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Also this morning, President Trump's fired national security advisor Michael Flynn reversing course. He says he is now willing to turn over subpoena documents to Senate investigators for their Russia probe. And Twitter-sphere on fire over the president's really clumsy midnight tweet with the word "covfefe" in it, a typo in it that has everybody talking about why the president insists on tweeting. We got it all covered. Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House. Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Chris. In this Russia investigation, you have seen what's happened, and it's happened in many other investigations as well. First they request information, and when they don't get it then they issue subpoenas. And the people caught in the middle face potential legal exposure if they don't comply. That's the position the president's former national security advisor finds himself in this morning.


JOHNS: President Trump's fired national security advisor Michael Flynn now says he is willing to cooperate with Senate investigators to provide them with documents sought by two subpoenas, Flynn expected to hand over the first batch to the Senate intelligence committee by June 6th.

Congressional investigators are expanding their siting to other Trump aids. Michael Cohen, a personal attorney to the president flatly refusing a request from the House and Senate intelligence committees to offer up information and testify. Cohen lashing out, claiming a lack of evidence to corroborate the Russia narrative, labeling the investigation a total fishing expedition and accusing lawmakers of a rush to judgment, but later admitting he would comply if subpoenaed.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer facing tough questions about all the Russia revelations when he held his first briefing in more than two weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the White House dispute that --

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to get into it. But your question presupposes facts that have not been confirmed.

JOHNS: The White House refusing to deny whether President Trump's adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner sought a secret backchannel to Russia President Vladimir Putin.

SPICER: Secretary Kelly and General McMaster have both discussed in general terms backchannels are an appropriate part of diplomacy.

JOHNS: As the investigation is now looking into the intent of Kushner's contacts with Russia during the transition, including why he met with a Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, a man with deep ties to the Kremlin. Back in March the White House claimed Kishner was talking to the Russians in his role as an official primary point of contact with foreign governments. But the Russian bank offered a different account, calling it a business meeting.

SPICER: Mr. Kushner's attorney has said Mr. Kushner has volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings and he will do the same if he is contacted and connected with any other inquiry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the president discuss it, though?

SPICER: I'm not going to get into what the president did or did not discuss.

JOHNS: The White House in spin mode, trying to downplay reports about turmoil in the West Wing.

SPICER: I think he's very pleased with the work of his staff. I think that he is frustrated like I am and like so many others to see stories come out that are patently false, to see narratives that are wrong, to see, quote-unquote, "fake news." When you see stories get perpetrated that are absolutely false, that are not based in fact, that is troubling.

JOHNS: Clashing with the media over the president's favorite subject.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you give an example of fake news, Sean? SPICER: Yes, absolutely. I'll give you an example. Friday, the

president was having a great discussion at the G-7 and someone from the BBC and ultimately an incoming reporter for the "The New York Times" retweeted the president was being rude by disrespecting the Italian prime minister when in fact you all in every one of the meetings that we sit in watched the president with that one earpiece that's been used by other presidents. And yet the president did a great job at NATO.

JOHNS: And then abruptly storming out.


JOHNS: And then a little bit more on that presidential misfire that set social media on fire. Last night the president apparently starting to write something on twitter about the media. Despite the constant negative press, perhaps he was going to write coverage. He wrote the word "covfefe," and it stayed up for an entire six hours before it was taken down this morning, replaced with "Who can figure out the true meaning of covfefe? Enjoy." This too will go into the national archives. Back to you.


[08:05:15] CAMEROTA: I'm enjoying your coverage of this, Joe. Looking at your demeanor as you get through this story has been very enjoyable and entertaining this morning.

Let's talk about it with our panel. We have CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza and CNN political analysts David Gregory and April Ryan. David, you wrote a book, "How is your Covfefe?"


CAMEROTA: I mean, look, is there anything here that is relevant of the president tweeting at midnight this nonsense?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No. I don't think there is anything relevant. But I think that it's indicative of his frame of mind coming back from his trip. He seems singularly focused on taking all comers on the Russia investigation, on press coverage. So he has resumed a place that I think is really self-destructive in being the one who is uniquely in charge of dealing with criticism or distraction and not realizing how to self-destruct if it is. So it raises it real question as he's talked to outside counsel about helping him isolate the Russia investigation where there is a special counsel as well as congressional committees as there is someone who can be in the chief of staff role who can say, look, Mr. President, we've got to focus on this and not on that. You can't be the one who is going to take on the press. Let your press people do that.

Are you going to deny him any of those devices literally to communicate? And I think what he's got to realize at some point is that what has served him in a campaign or served him up until now is not serving him well as president because he's not getting done what he would like to get done, and staying up late and tweeting and all the rest is just making a difference.

CUOMO: It is making a difference, and it's making a negative difference because more often than not, Cillizza, he winds up creating a new cycle.


CUOMO: Current example, the tweets that he put out this morning about Carter Page, a man he says he doesn't know. And yet he tweets this morning that there were reports -- I thought they were all fake news, but now he sites reports about Carter Page being told by Democrats that they don't want him to testify, which is demonstrably false. Adam Schiff saying we're not going to negotiate a date with a guy like Carter Page. I don't know what he means by putting it that way, but that's what he said. We'll just tell him when we want him to testify. And then the president goes further saying because Carter Page, a man who he keeps saying he doesn't know, he now owns his own argument and says he blows away the case against him. And once again puts it as a witch hunt and makes Carter Page equal with Jim Comey and Brennan. This is Cycle.

CILLIZZA: Yes. And it's a pattern. And it's a destructive pattern for him whether he wants to admit it or not.

Look, his defense of Michael Flynn, even after he fired him, whether that's publically saying, you know, in interviews that he's a good guy, but we had to let him go, or privately as we hear in the reports about Jim Comey in that meeting and him saying, look, Comey is a good guy, can we let this go. It's of a piece with the Carter Page stuff this morning.

What I try to figure out is why Donald Trump would defend Mike Flynn or Carter Page. I think some of it in Flynn's case is loyalty. Flynn was with him from the very beginning. I think in Carter Page's case it is just the enemy of my enemy is my mind. He thinks Carter Page is being maligned by the media, I guess, and the media is his enemy, and therefore defending Carter Page is sort of the right thing to do.

Being a staffer for Donald Trump is an impossible job. It doesn't mean these people should have sympathy. They knew what they were getting into, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, and the rest. But it's an impossible job. You try to construct a narrative. He doesn't know Carter Page. The president of the United States knocks it down. It happens over and other on matters big and small. He is his own worst enemy time and time again.

CUOMO: Spicer makes his own luck as well, Chris.

CILLIZZA: He does.

CUOMO: How about his saying fake news, fake news, fake news, all these fake narratives, give us an example. He comes up with a weak example about some A.P. reporter's tweet about whether the president was respecting an Italian official. That's his best example?

CILLIZZA: It's ridiculous, frankly. David made this point last hour, and I think it's exactly right, which is typically a White House press secretary walks a very fine line between maintaining credibility with the reporters who he's working with day in and day out, and making sure that the boss has an understanding of what he's doing. Sean Spicer has entirely scrapped that and now is just increased the boss, save my job mode. Yesterday's press conference was illustrative of that 100 times over.

CAMEROTA: April, you were in the room for that press conference.

[08:10:00] CUOMO: When it happened. When it happened. When it happened.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, yes, I was in the room.

CAMEROTA: All right, and so -- Chris sings "Hamilton" a lot, people should know, during commercial breaks as well. But April, are these still useful exercises? Sean Spicer refused to confirm or deny or comment on one of the big stories of the day, and that is whether Jared Kushner tried to establish this backchannel. So as a reporter, are these things helpful still talking to Sean Spicer?

RYAN: Alisyn, yes, it is still helpful. We are waiting for kernels of information. Yesterday was -- it was bad. I'm just going to say it was bad. From the moment that he came out and went for about 11 minutes on the concluded trip nine days or 10 or 11 days prior, he went back over this trying to show that the president was presidential in what he had done overseas.

And then he started taking questions. He went to those they consider friendly more so than the media that's been there, that's been there at the White House press core that's been there for a while. And then once Jim Acosta starts questioning, it gets hot and he leaves. It was not a good day, but there was some kind of strategy going on. They will give certain people information and then also, but it's not enough information. We're still pressing and digging. But we still have to be there because, again, it is not about us. It is about information that feeds the American public.

You find out what's going on from the highest office in the land. There's so much at stake. You know, this Russia investigation, these leaks that are coming out from their White House. They're acknowledging the leaks but yet saying we're fake. It just does not compute. It does not merge together. So there are definite leaks. They're fearful of what they call fake, and that's why they call us fake because they know we're getting real information out of that embattled White House.

CUOMO: Hash-tag "press on," April Ryan.


CUOMO: David Gregory, and yet could you make the different that he's in better shape on the Russia probe in terms of what's known and what may come out eventually than he is on his own domestic agenda. Health care still has a lot of people in knots in the Senate from all the reporting we have. That CBO score is a haunting reality for people who sign on with it that has a domino effect on this tax reform that they still can't get any traction on. And those are the big moments, the big promises that Americans are going to look to come to midterms, right?

GREGORY: I think there is no question about it. I think there is an environment in Washington, so it's chaotic. There's so much turmoil within his administration that he's responsible for. So that keeps churning and Washington doesn't work well. And the fact that Washington doesn't work well on his agenda means he's running out of time to get big ticket items done.

So if there's no momentum on health care in the Senate, and there appears not to be, then that becomes a big promise that's unfulfilled and then gets in the way of if you can't get that particular deal, can you get a budget deal? And without that can you do meaningful tax reform? It all becomes a real problem.

And you have more conservatives on Capitol Hill who are willing to hedge more because the president is less popular. So it all kind of circles back to what distracts him. If he wants to win the argument, say on the Russia investigation, then why did he fire the guy who was investigating him, number one? Number two, but he could do that with more discipline. If he wants to answer all the questions he could have a big press conference and he could do that and he could take all the questions, he could try to deal with it. Or he could say, look, here's my position on this. We're going to have other people focused on this and I'm going to be focused on my agenda. He's not doing that, nor does he have anybody working for him who's helping him do that or doing it on their own. So you have got a complete vacuum and you have a president that keeps adding oxygen to the story.

CAMEROTA: OK, Chris, David, April, thank you very much for all of the insights.

CUOMO: All right, and, look, another reason that we continue to report on this ongoing investigation is that there keep on being new developments, new angles, more people pulled into it. So we're going to get the take from Democratic Senator Al Franken. What does he think about Flynn's reversal, saying that he'll give up?


CUOMO: What's he doing? He's reading a true page-turner, his true book. If we could pull Senator Franken away from those tasty pages, he'll be on NEW DAY next.


[08:18:11] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The White House refusing to confirm or even comment on reports that the president's son-in-law and advisor, Jared Kushner, tried to set up a back channel with Russia.

Let's talk about this and so much more with Democratic Senator Al Franken. He's the author of a brand-new book, "Al Franken: Giant of the Senate."

Great to see you, Senator.


CAMEROTA: I love the cover of the book.

FRANKEN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: "Giant of the Senate", who calls you that?

FRANKEN: I titled the book. It's "Al Franken: Giant of the Senate" by Al Franken.

CAMEROTA: I like that.

FRANKEN: But, you know, I ask the reader in the book to make a judgment for themselves whether I am, in fact, a giant in the Senate.

CAMEROTA: Understood.

Before we get to the book or the serious news of the day, what is a covfefe?

FRANKEN: A covfefe is a Yiddish term for, I got to go to bed now.


FRANKEN: I think.

CAMEROTA: It sounds like that's totally plausible.

FRANKEN: Yes. I mean, he got that from Jared. I guess.

CAMEROTA: Do you think that there is anything relevant about the fact that the president sent out a gibberish tweet at midnight last night?

FRANKEN: No. I think -- I've done. I haven't done gibberish tweets, but I -- at late at night, you can make errors and I think this is the least disturbing thing in the history of the Trump administration.

CAMEROTA: All right. Let's talk about the Russia -- the investigations into Russia.

Jared Kushner, as you know, it has been reported that he may have attempted to set up a back channel with the Russians before President Trump was actually in the White House.

FRANKEN: Right, right. Yes. It's all very disturbing, mainly in no small part because these meetings weren't disclosed.

[08:20:04] And this is -- there is a whole bunch of these from Trump administration officials or former Trump administration officials. They aren't acting like people who have nothing to hide.

They have not -- you know, you're supposed to when you are applying for your security clearance fill out the form and say -- CAMEROTA: Disclose this and this.

FRANKEN: Disclosure meetings and this was a meeting you'd remember. It was at the -- it was between Flynn and Kislyak and Kushner. And then this -- this is no normal back channel thing. This is trying to do it using Russian communications so that it's closed to --

CAMEROTA: Right. Away from the prying eyes of the U.S. intel.

FRANKEN: Intel, which they were kind of at war at because at that time our intelligence community had determined that Russia had interfered with our election and Trump was trying to deny it. And, so -- and it's hard to believe that his son-in-law was doing this without telling him. I mean --

CAMEROTA: And yet, and yet, Senator, what we hear from the Trump White House and what we hear from his supporters. In fact, we had former governor of New Hampshire, John Sununu, on yesterday who basically say, but no collusion. Lawmakers can't prove any collusion. FBI can't prove any collusion.

So, sure, there may be some smoke, but there is no evidence of collusion.

FRANKEN: Where there's smoke, though, there is sometimes fire.

We have the special prosecutor, Bob Mueller, who everyone I think feels good about being in that position. We have two intelligence committees, House and the Senate, looking into this.

Yes, obviously we actually have to get to the bottom of this and go where the facts go, and that's what we're going to do.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about your book.


CAMEROTA: I want to read a little portion of it. This is about the DeHumorizer. Every member of my staff is empowered to be the DeHumorizer at any given moment. Any staffer driving me, for instance, is encouraged to respond to things I say with, OK, that's for inside the car or the off used, fine, get it out of our system.


CAMEROTA: So, do you feel, number one, pressure to be funny because you are --


CAMEROTA: You don't? You don't.

FRANKEN: That's not the pressure.


CAMEROTA: The pressure is not be funny -- the pressure is to not be funny in serious situations.

FRANKEN: Yes. Or, again, I don't know why this one pops to my head, but when the Supreme Court decided the equal marriage decision, which I thought was a great decision, I wanted to put out a press release saying that Senator Franken believes this is a great decision but believes that Justice Scalia's descent was very gay. And so --

CAMEROTA: And your staff said no to that one.

FRANKEN: Yes, they said no. And this is actually after I was re- elected. And I said, come on. You know, oh, come on, said Franken, was one of my staffers who want to write a book said that.


FRANKEN: That (INAUDIBLE) titled that.

CAMEROTA: OK. You have another one here where you're talking about Ted Cruz. I'll read this portion. The problem with Ted is simply he's an absolutely toxic coworker. He's the guy in your office who snitches to corporate about your March Madness pool and microwaves fish in the office kitchen.


CAMEROTA: He is the Dwight Schrute of the Senate.


CAMEROTA: He has just responded. He says Al is trying to sell books and apparently he's decided that being obnoxious and insulting me is good for causing liberals to buy his book.

FRANKEN: Well, he may be right about that.

But, no, the whole point of this chapter, I make an exception with Ted and in this I say, the thing you should know about Ted Cruz is I probably like Ted Cruz more than most of my colleagues like Ted Cruz, and I hate Ted Cruz.

And I make an exception with him because he is a toxic coworker and to get anything done in the Senate, you've got to be collegial. You're a small town of a hundred people. Ted doesn't get anything done. The only thing he -- the big accomplishment was shutting down the government.

And so, I talk a lot about the Republicans that I am friends with. I wrote a country song with Orrin Hatch and we worked to recruit and train principals for high needs schools. Pat Roberts, who is a conservative -- very conservative senator from Kansas, he and I are co-chairs of the rural health caucus and we bonded over Jack Benny.

CAMEROTA: That's nice. So there is still bipartisan esprit de corps happening --

[08:25:02] FRANKEN: There has to be. There has to be -- and that was sort of the purpose.

CAMEROTA: I want to ask you about Kathy Griffin. She found the third rail of comedy or at least a political stunt I guess as it wasn't funny. And she was roundly denounced for doing that.

FRANKEN: And properly so.

CAMEROTA: Yes, properly so. So, everybody thinks that she went too far.

FRANKEN: I did, too. I really think saying -- you know, I -- Kathy is a friend and she's a terrific comedian, but this had no business being in our public discourse.

And I talked to her. She had apologized, a real fulsome apology. She's actually begged for forgiveness and I believe in forgiveness.

CAMEROTA: You are supposed to be appearing with her in July. Can she recover from this?

FRANKEN: Well, I think she did the right thing. I think asking for forgiveness and acknowledging that this was -- this was a horrible mistake. And, so, I think she can.

CAMEROTA: And you're still going to appear with her?


CAMEROTA: Senator Al Franken, thanks for sharing the book with us and for being here to talk with us. Great to have you.

FRANKEN: You bet.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. A very serious situation going on in Afghanistan, a deadly blast in Kabul. This as President Trump weighs sending more troops to Afghanistan, known as the graveyard of empires. Could this attack impact whether or not the U.S. puts more boots on the ground? Next.